It is the sum of our experiences that shape who we are, as is the coming together of diverse minds that form a cosmopolitan nation. In a country that prides itself on being urbane, yet still ranks 2nd-worst globally for workplace diversity, the movement for inclusivity is more important than ever.
Global Diversity Awareness month, held this October, is about celebrating diverse beliefs and values from various cultures around the world. We need to embrace our differences and honour its positive impact on society as a whole; and it starts with recognising the value of every human being, regardless of the physical characteristics we use to identify another as different.
Like any movement that needs attention, conversation is key. We speak to some of the #GirlBoss(es) who have been making waves in Singapore, and get their thoughts on diversity in their sphere. From them, we learn why it’s so important to have a diverse group of women at the forefront of their field.
Sarah Bagharib, Crazycat
A vocal changemaker for society’s social issues, Sarah is an unstoppable force of goodwill and humanity. Crazycat is the brainchild of her 5-year long relationship with the hashtag #ShineOnYouCrazyCat, inspired by Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, which she’s been using to showcase various women she’s met.
As a platform that spotlights the everyday woman, Crazycat’s ethos is to empower ladies from all walks of life; a celebration of women living lives of grit and ambition. Representation matters, and Crazycat’s storytelling brings home how seeing someone who looks and speaks like you succeed in their field can plant that first seed of confidence.
Sarah says: “When I see a minority/Muslim woman leading a team or being at the forefront of their field, I recognise that I can achieve a similar, if not the same level of success for myself if I allow myself to. Seeing that helps remove the layer of limiting belief that I am not good enough just because of the colour of my skin or what my background is.”
And as Sarah points out, it’s why it’s especially important to have diversity at the top of any organisation, aside from the studies that have consistently shown the correlation between diversity and profitability in the workplace.
“Having a diverse team means having diversity of thought, which expands market reach and allows for a more dynamic and varied approach to addressing problems while finding solutions.” Sarah explains that from the top down, “diverse leaders can really help set the tone and culture for the company (one that is inclusive and empathetic), and have that trickle down to the staff to motivate and empower them to do even better in the roles they play.”
When we see other ladies embracing their shine, it “helps create the cycle of inviting other women from various backgrounds to the table.”
Germaine Monteiro and Cheryl Ou, The Nail Social
Co-founders Germaine Monteiro and Cheryl Ou combine the worlds of beauty and social to help train and employ underprivileged women in Singapore. The Nail Social is “a socially conscious salon” that has helped many women progress from a position of vulnerability to one of stability; they are manicurists with a cause.
As trained nail technicians, the pair opened the lifestyle salon determined to be the kind of entrepreneurs not solely motivated by money. The Nail Social works closely with social service agencies and Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) to recruit its employees, and welcomes women from diverse backgrounds – single mums to youth-at-risk and ex-convicts.
Says Germaine about diversity in the workplace: “It’s essential and honestly it makes us better as a company. Being in the service industry, the key to successful customer service relies on team members being able to connect with customers. A diverse workforce enhances our engagement with customers in terms of values and culture, which results in a positive experience on both ends.”
Germaine shared that “the foundation of any company is the employees”, and it’s why we need to have women as the vanguard.
“When diverse women work together and are part of an inclusive environment, it creates a positive experience and encourages better productivity and retention,” she added. In a world where the reality is that businesses run for profit, the duo prove that there can still be humanity (and diversity) in the numbers game.
Niki Torres, Chief Best Friends
As a comms specialist with over a decade of experience, Niki Torres realised that “if we want to go far, we have to do it together”. Chief Best Friends is her take on helping raise Asian female voices in the industry, where there are minimal or none.
A play on C-Suite titles like Chief Marketing Officer, the interview podcast is all about helping women succeed in work and business through meaningful friendships. In business, we all need a Chief Best Friend, and the show builds a community for Asia’s female founders so they can thrive.
Niki says: “When I first started listening to podcasts back in 2012, most of the shows were fronted by all-white male hosts. That changed in 2018, when shows cropped up led by women, but a majority of the hosts were still white and coming from the US, UK, and Australia. There weren’t a lot of podcasts coming out of Asia, and even then, there were not a lot of female voices.”
As someone who spent hours listening to podcasts while cooking or working out at the gym, it was an opportunity for change. Niki shares: “Women are inundated with expectations of looking a certain way, and the visual formats of most popular media channels and platforms create unnecessary importance on our looks. I believe podcasts are a perfect medium, because being featured in podcasts or even starting one has fewer barriers for women.”
For lady bosses busy about their day, podcasts are also easy to listen to. In episodes like with SoGal Ventures, the first female-led millennial venture capitalist firm, and with iFundWomen, the sole crowdfunding platform for fledgling female entrepreneurs, we learn that the exception isn’t the rule, and recognise a message of sisterhood in diversity that will resonate.